JUDY WOODRUFF: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, thank you very much for talking with us.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., speaker of the house: My pleasure.
JUDY WOODRUFF: If “A” is the beginning of the push for health care reform and “Z” is the end, final passage, president’s signature, where do you stand at this point, with the House about to go out for August recess?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: We’re somewhere in the middle of the alphabet, but we have a long way to go. I would say we’re probably around A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-J-K. I’ve been singing with my grandsons. About “K” I would imagine. We have a long way to go.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a lot of attention yesterday due to the fact that there was a deal cut with the Blue Dog Democrats, self-described fiscal conservatives, with others on the committee, essentially — and with the leadership, you, essentially cutting back on the public plan. There’s already concern being raised by progressive Democrats that too much is being given to the Blue Dogs. What do you say to them?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, first of all, I don’t like the word “deal,” because this isn’t about a deal. It’s about an agreement as to how we will go forward and a recognition of some of the needs that some of our members have to meet the needs of their constituents in rural areas.
The public option is a must-have provision for me, a strong public option, and a public option is in this agreement. The language of it is exactly the language that Senator Kennedy has in the Help bill in the Senate. And so it is something that is acceptable language. I’d like to improve upon it. And we like our original language that is in the Ways and Means Committee and the Education and Labor Committee.
But this is the legislative process, the give-and-take of that, and there’s plenty in this legislation for everyone in America to rejoice about who cares — as everyone, I think, in the Congress does — about making our country healthier.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So is it fair to say these concessions to the more moderate conservative Democrats are temporary, just to get the bill out of committee, or they could be there in the long run to get it through the House?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, first of all, let me say this. Some of the initiatives are initiatives that — ideas that have been shared by many members of Congress.
For example, one of their big points was increasing the exemption for small businesses from $250,000 payroll to $500,000 payroll. That had very general popularity in our caucus and in the Congress, I’m sure among the Republicans, as well. So that was one point.
Another point was how we do the public option that is more serviceable to them in their regions. And this is one bill. We have two other bills that have a stronger public option in it.
Third is to lower cost. We all share that view. And, of course, they wanted more time to review the bill now that we’ve had these changes.
These are all within the realm of a very important piece of legislation that must go forward and have a complete comfort level with what the agreement contained.
Congress Will Have a Bill
JUDY WOODRUFF: But do I hear you saying you could live with it, if, for example, the number of small businesses that didn't have to provide insurance for their employees remained where the more conservative Democrats want it, higher, 5.3 million, I think it is?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, the $500,000 -- oh, yes, actually, we were on our way to that place. And this just gave it further impetus, because many members -- I had a letter from, I think, 21 or 22 of my freshmen members saying, "We want to go to $500,000." It was -- it had great popularity, and the Blue Dogs members of the committee put that forward.
But the important thing is, is we will have a bill. And when it comes to the floor, we will have the votes. And it will be something that will have general acceptance and something that we will all take great pride in.
JUDY WOODRUFF: One other provision the more conservative Democrats insisted on was having the states share the cost in expanding Medicaid, which is health insurance for the poor. Is that something you think will stay there?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, it is at -- we're talking about 2016. By 2016, there would be a 7 percent sharing of the states, 2016. Our understanding is -- but we haven't seen it yet from the Senate -- is that they will have a much bigger share for the states in their legislation.
So this is not something out of the blue, but it is a small percentage seven years from now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So to those who say, "Wait a minute. We're worried that you're already giving away the store to some Democrats," what do you say?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I don't get the point. This is about the American people. What I have always said is, we will have a good, strong bill with a robust public option, and we will.
What I've also said is, it's not about Democrats or Republicans or any place across the spectrum. It's about the American people. And the bill must work for them.
And this is a bill that says to the insurance companies: A new day has dawned. No longer will you be able to exploit the American people by depriving, discriminating against them if they have a pre-existing medical condition, if they lose their job, or change their job, or want to start a business, or be a self-employed. They still will have health insurance. If they are sick and have insurance, you can no longer pull the plug on their health insurance, as they can do now.
So this is saying to them: For too long, we have been -- the American people have been at your mercy. You've been able to increase the premiums at your own will, and that diminishes the ability of the American people to have access.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Even with these concessions, though, the Republicans are still saying, We're not going to go along with this. The House minority leader, John Boehner, said again today this would be a government takeover. In fact, he said, "This current legislation," he said, "specifies after five years an individual won't be able to buy a policy on his own. They would have to go through a government-run health insurance exchange."
The Status Quo Cannot Continue
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I have the highest regard for Mr. Boehner as Republican leader. What he's saying is not true. And I regret that I have to say that.
Mostly everything that the Republicans have said about this plan has not been true. Those are the talking points of the health insurance industry in America that's gotten us where we are today, with upward spiraling costs, with people who need more stability and certainty about their health insurance and their good health.
The health insurance industry message is the message. The only entity that will be healthier with the Republican proposal is the health insurance industry.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What about, Madam Speaker, what you see with increasing concerns on the part of the public that shows up in the polls, people just worried more and more that the cost of health care for them is going to go up under your plan. What do you say to that?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, it's very important. Well, it's very important. I think, if you see the poll in the Wall Street Journal this morning, it was something like, when they'd hear about the plan, people are 40-something percent to 32 percent in favor, 40-something percent opposed. When you tell them what is in the bill, it goes up to 59 percent in favor and 32 percent against. People have to know more about it.
And the president has been very clear. If you have health insurance and a doctor that you like, you can keep them. You have that choice. And the only way you can have that choice is to be able to afford that choice.
And this bill will make health insurance affordable for many more people in our country, stop the upward spiral that hurts families, that hurts businesses and their competitiveness, helps our economy and its vitality, and increases the entitlements of Medicare and Medicaid in the national budget.
So the status quo cannot continue. It's the worst possible arrangement in order to control cost, improve care, and make it universal.
JUDY WOODRUFF: As we've been discussing, the pressures are from every which direction on health care legislation.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: That's for sure.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You have the conservatives saying one thing, the liberals saying something else. Right now, you have already Democrats saying they're worried the president is going to -- in the Senate, especially, give up too much to just get a few Republican votes, to say that this is a bipartisan bill. Are you worried about that?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: No, I'm not worried about that at all. The president, by the way -- were it not for the president, we would not be as far down the path as we are now. His leadership has been essential to this.
But what I say to my colleagues is, you have to go out there and sell. You want a robust public option? You have to go out there and sell it. You must inoculate against the false message that the other side, the health insurance industry, will be put out there, and you have to positively say why a robust public option will increase competition, will keep the health insurance industry honest, and will give people more choices, and those choices include the private sector, as well as being part of the public plan, which enables you to buy into a public plan or into the private sector.
Opportunity to Take Message Home
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, how worried are you about this August recess coming up? Members are going to go home to their states, to their districts, and they are going to hear a lot of these arguments from the other side that some are saying could just continue to wear down the case for health care reform.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, maybe, but I don't see it that way. I see August as an opportunity for us to take our message home about what is in it for the individual patient or consumer out there.
The more people know about what it is that we are doing in our legislation, the better they like it. And it will have to be a drumbeat, an echo chamber of the president's message of affordability, and quality, and accessibility, and universality, and just to make America healthier.
It's not just about health care. It's about the health of America, prevention and wellness. It is about prevention, not amputation. It's about diet, not diabetes. It's absolutely essential that we go forward. There's so much good in this legislation with the costs that are contained and with the prospect for great success.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We talked about cost. Two quick specific questions about that. The president has said he would support a tax on households earning over a million dollars a year. Right now, in the House, the legislation says, I believe, $350,000 a year. Where do you come down on that, to pay for this, I mean?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I have thought that -- I'm sorry -- I think -- I'm not sure, but I think what the president is saying is $500,000 for an individual, a million dollars for a couple. And, actually, you don't get a surcharge there until you are over $500,000, so your first $100,000 is -- I think that's a good place to be, although, in order to pay for the bill, you have to come down a little lower to $300,000 or something, so we'll just to have a different pay-for, but the bill must be paid for.
One of the challenges we have is, we know that there are tremendous savings in going forward with the prevention piece, hundreds of billions of dollars. The Congressional Budget Office, the accounting office here, doesn't give you any credit for prevention.
But we are so sure about that that I don't know that we'll ever even need the pay-fors because the prevention will provide so much saving.
JUDY WOODRUFF: One other quick question about cost and that is the proposal to tax these so-called "Cadillac" gold-plated health insurance plans. Are you open to that idea to raise money for this?
Taxing Insurance Companies
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, the way we have heard it coming over from the Senate -- and, of course, we haven't seen it yet -- is that they want to tax the insurance companies for the Cadillac, Rolls-Royce, whatever the top-of-the-line is of the day. I prefer a domestic model, but to tax the insurance companies for those high-end insurance policies.
I think there's a lot of interest in taxing the insurance companies, because people really do see across America, they know that they have caused the problem that we have, with their antitrust exemption that they have and the immoral profits. They're making billions of dollars in profits while they're cutting off people for benefits that they are entitled to under their insurance policy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So you'd be open to that?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I'm open to -- I say just put everything on the table. But I think it has to be truly the top of the line. Once you get into sort of the middle income, I don't think that that is a good idea. I don't think it's a good idea there.
But, again, when we talk about at the highest level, to have a surcharge, or at the highest package, let's take a look at -- insurance package, let's take a look at it. But there's a big appetite to tax the insurance companies.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I can't let you go, Madam Speaker, without asking you about the economy. As you and your members go home for the August recess, many Americans, of course, still wondering when the recession is going to feel like it's coming to an end.
Unemployment is high, increasing criticism of the stimulus package. People pointing out, well, there are 3 million more Americans out of work than there were when the stimulus was passed. What do you and others, other Democrats, have to say to the American people?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I will say this. I'll say what Republican economists have said: Without the stimulus package, we would have many more people out of work now.
Now, if you don't have a job, that's no consolation. But the fact is that the stimulus -- the recovery package is just exactly that. It has stopped the freefall that we are in. There are many indicators that the economy is turning around now. Unemployment is the lagging indicator, that the jobs show up last.
But we have to, I believe, be more aggressive in getting out our recovery money, but it's a time-capsule release. Is that how you say it, time-release capsule? And we have to get it out faster.
But absent that recovery package, this country would be in much worse economic state. Having said that, the president in our budget that passed on the 100th day of his presidency in the House and in the Senate had three pillars for turning the economy around: education, where innovation begins; health care, which is an economic issue; and energy for new green economy.
And we are on our way to passing all of this legislation to create good jobs through innovation for America. In the meantime, though, people are suffering. We understand that. And we want in this legislation to give them more stability, that if they lose their job, they will not lose their health insurance.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, thank you very much.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Thank you, Judy. My pleasure. Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: For the record, we have an interview request to the House minority leader, John Boehner, and we hope to bring that to you soon.